This legislation makes several changes to Texas courts’ imposition and collection of fines and fees, with a particular emphasis on defendants’ ability to pay and alternatives to fines and fees for indigent defendants. Many of these changes were first suggested by the Texas Public Policy Foundation as an expansion of protections for indigent defendants in existing legislation.
You can read the full text of the bill here.
- If a defendant notifies the court (by in person appearance or by a mailed letter) that they are unable to pay fines and fees, the court shall hold an ability to pay hearing to determine if the fines and fees impose undue hardship.
- Several factors could inform a court’s determination of undue hardship, including mental or physical impairment, pregnancy, childcare, working hours, transportation limitations, or homelessness.
- If the court finds that the defendant is unable to pay, it must provide alternatives for the defendant under Article 42.15 (a-1), such as deferred payment, payment plans, community service, full or partial waiver of fines and fees, or some combination of the above.
- Judges must allow defendants to perform community service in the county where they live.
- Courts may not issue a capias pro fine for failure to comply with a judgment unless an ability to pay hearing is held and the defendant is determined able to pay.
- Judges are no longer required to issue warrants for failure to appear.
- Where warrants for failure to pay or failure to appear exist, judges have the discretion to waive the $20 municipality-imposed fee attaching to the warrant.